The Elon alumna and her boyfriend, Bryan Kaplan, have created a community through flag sales as the U.S. adheres to stay-at-home orders and social distancing.
When COVID-19 restrictions and quarantining went into full effect, Elon alumna Brooke Babb ’13 and her boyfriend, Bryan Kaplan, couldn’t help but wonder how they could help those in need from their 600-square-foot apartment in Washington, D.C. The result? A glimpse of hope.
The duo brainstormed ways in which they could give people an opportunity to come together, despite being forced to remain apart. And once they did, they appropriately named their new initiative Separate but Together.
“It’s called Separate but Together because at this time we are all separated to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Babb, who majored in sport & event management. “But during this time we’re also still together, going through this experience together, and being there for each other however we can.”
Babb, who works as the executive assistant to the chief development, marketing & communications officer at Special Olympics International, said the company sells “flags for a cause,” with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting national and international nonprofit organizations directly involved with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone can hang a flag. Whether you live in an apartment or a house … it’s a great visual that people can see from afar,” Babb said. “A lot of people, when they think of flags, think of being unified. You know, we all have state flags, country flags that show our unity.”
Through the Separate but Together website, Babb and Kaplan sell two flags listed at $19.95 apiece, each with its own message and an intentional set of charities for donations. After endlessly researching what different organizations’ relief efforts looked like, they narrowed their list down to four that seemed to do most with donations.
The first flag reads “Separate but Together,” and its proceeds support Heart to Heart International and Feeding America. The proceeds raised from the “Thank You” flag, which is decorated with medical supplies in honor of essential workers facing the virus firsthand, benefit Get Us PPE and Medical Teams International.
“We want people to know that their money is going to a good cause,” Babb said.
While Babb handles the marketing, media and partnerships with nonprofits, Kaplan, the “entrepreneurial spirit” as Babb calls him, is in charge of logistics. And they do it all from their humble D.C. residence in addition to working their full-time jobs.
“There’s a lot more work that goes into it than I originally thought there would be,” Babb said. “So that has been a challenge – just to kind of make sure we’re both on top of our full-time jobs, but also giving enough focus to this where we’re able to nurture it, watch it, and let it be as successful as it possibly could be.”
As soon as orders come in, Babb and Kaplan run what Babb calls a “supply chain” that includes printing labels, writing personalized thank-you notes, and walking the flags to the post office. But if you ask them, an inventory-filled apartment doesn’t compare to the reward they have felt and the incredible “ripple effect” they have seen.
“We have this one random neighborhood in the middle-of-nowhere Virginia and one of my cousin’s friends saw my Instagram post, bought a flag, and then I think 13 or 14 of her neighbors saw her flag and got on board,” Babb said.
Babb has also received overwhelming support from former Elon classmates and professors, most of whom she hasn’t spoken to in years but have been instrumental in spreading the word about Separate but Together.
Providing financial support to deserving organizations was essential to Babb and Kaplan, but so was creating a sense of community, especially for those feeling isolated during quarantine.
“We were also trying to create a community,” Babb said. “When you buy a flag, not only are you feeling like you’re a part of something, but physically other people in your area, in your neighborhood, in your town, they can see a flag from far away.”
With nearly 150 flags sold to date, Babb and Kaplan are just getting started. And amid stay-at-home orders, they have felt lucky to have a side project to focus on that has not only established a remote community but also provided them with a positive outlook.
“It’s giving people a glimpse of hope that there’s still good out there,” Babb said. “People are craving that positivity because everything else they feel like is just so negative, sad, scary and unknown. It’s also helping our morale and allowing us to stay in a positive mental place through all of it. It’s definitely been a gift.”